Lately I’ve been listening to podcasts by No Meat Athlete and Rich Roll, who are both vegan endurance athletes. No Meat Athlete sticks to topics pretty close to endurance athletics and a vegan or vegetarian diet, but Rich Roll has a wide variety of guests and topics, covering many aspects of health, diet and wellness.
In a Rich Roll podcast with Brian MacKenzie, they discussed wearing a heart rate monitor during training. Rich says he wears one all the time to help him determine if he’s in the right training zone for a particular workout. Brian, on the other hand, was vehemently against them. Brian does training and coaching, and he said one of the first things he does is ban his clients from wearing a HR monitor. His reason behind this was that he sees people get fixated on it. They stare at the output and, regardless of how they’re feeling, will refuse to keep up the pace because their heart rate is too high. They get obsessed with the number and stop paying attention to how they are feeling.
It was interesting to hear the discussion, because they were coming from such different viewpoints, but they talked about it respectfully, and without attacking each other (this is a really cool aspect of the Rich Roll podcast, and probably one of the main reasons I keep listening to it). The conclusion that they came to is that a heart rate monitor is a fine tool to use, as long as you aren’t relying on it as your sole input for how your training is going. Rich admitted that while he will aim for a target heart rate on most of his runs, he knows that he needs to adjust the number based on other factors, like how well he’s been sleeping, what he’s been eating, the time of day, etc. That’s what Brian’s clients are lacking, when they say “I need to stay under 168 BPM or I’ll explode!” They don’t have the tools, skills or experience to say “today I’ve been stressed out, so my heart rate might be a little higher than usual, I’ll be okay at 175 BPM.”
Since I was young, I have had a fast heart rate. When I was a teenager we did a unit in gym class where we took our resting heart rate and used that to calculate our target heart rate for aerobic and anaerobic exercise. When comparing my resting heart rate with my classmates, I found mine to be much higher than theirs. When I told my mom (a nurse) about it, she took my pulse and compared it to some chart in a medical textbook and said “well, you have an average resting heart rate of a toddler.” In college, during exercise, it was not uncommon for my heart rate to get up to nearly 200 BPM. This made aerobic exercise complicated, because my target heart rate could be achieved merely by talking animatedly with a friend, while sitting down. Because of this, I’ve never relied on my heart rate as an indication of how I’m training.
Last Christmas, I got a heart rate monitor that I could use with RunKeeper, and I’ve used it several times, but not in the way that Rich Roll and Brian MacKenzie were talking about. I simply wear the monitor, and after my run, look at a graph of the results. Sometimes I have RunKeeper announce my average heart rate along the way, but I don’t really take that into account for my run. The main thing I get out of it is seeing where my heart rate is at for a given workout, and to see how it correlates to my perceived exertion. Based on the data it provides, I can see that my heart has indeed gotten much stronger since college, and that during my runs, my heart rate very gradually climbs. I can use that information to see how long I can keep up a given pace, or maybe decide that I can do that distance faster. I’m curious to know how Brian would feel about using a heart rate monitor in that way.